Implantable heart monitor may save lives of patients with autoimmune disease

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | June 17, 2016
Cardiology Medical Devices MRI Population Health
A heart monitor called an implantable loop recorder has been shown to enable the early detection and treatment of potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) and no symptoms of heart disease. This is the first study to demonstrate the value of the recorder in this patient population.

SSc is an autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects multiple organs including the heart. Cardiac damage is known to be common in patients with SSc, but there are oftentimes no symptoms that accompany it.

In addition, SSc patients with cardiac issues are known to have very poor prognoses — it’s the cause of between 14 and 55 percent of deaths among patients with the disease. But timely diagnosis and treatment can greatly improve outcomes.

The implantable loop recorder is a subcutaneous, single-lead, electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring device that’s about the size of a pack of chewing gum. It’s inserted through a tiny cut on the upper left chest during a procedure that takes between 15 and 20 minutes.

The electrodes that monitor that heart’s electrical activity to detect abnormalities are on the surface of the recorder, so there’s no need for wires. If there is a significant change in the heart rhythm or if the patient activates the recorder when they experience symptoms, it can automatically store ECG data.

For the pilot study, 19 patients with SSc received the implantable loop recorder. The researchers found that it detected different types of heart rhythm abnormalities in over half of the patients including supraventricular ectopics, ventricular ectopics, ventricular tachycardia and complete heart block.

The researchers had 15 of the patients undergo cardiac MR exams and the images revealed cardiac damage that correlated with the heart rhythm abnormalities found by the recorder. The results of a pilot study were presented on Friday at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress.

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